The world found out that Chadwick Boseman died last Friday evening. I was in a funk that day. A real, deep, funky funk. I didn’t even blog last week, which is very unusual for me. But I literally had nothing good to say. I was without wit, humor, disgust, irritation. There was nothing.
My objectivity – absent. My rationality – a mere concept. My optimism, even my pragmatism, both seemed completely swamped by the coldest, darkest feeling of malaise.
It was even worse because there was no blood behind it. There was no passion, no anger, I felt like a doll. No one was pulling my strings, per say, but I was moving in a jerky, uncoordinated fashion. There was no grace, no joy, no anima. I was just watching, emotionlessly as Black death and Black life and Black joy were dismissed or slighted or ridiculed in the media, or all of the above. I knew I had to retreat. If I typed a single word I’d get in trouble.
Then my friend Kate texted me that Chadwick Boseman died. I looked it up, confirmed through multiple sources that it was true, and that was the first spark of genuine emotion I felt all day. Sadness washed over me.
I pictured all the little black children who would probably cry to learn that their hero had passed. I scrolled Instagram and looked at all of the portraits people were posting talking about Boseman’s talent and influence and mourning his loss, his life ended so young.
I was oddly proud of him. I’d been proud before, you understand, because long before I knew his name by heart — and the rest of the world did too as the now classic King T’Challa in Black Panther — I recognized Boseman’s face as an actor who always played men of integrity, something his agent recently confirmed: “I remember him and Tessa were offered a movie, it was about two slaves, and he was like, ‘I do not want to perpetuate slavery.’ It was like, ‘We’re not going to keep perpetuating the stereotypes,’ and that’s why he wanted to show men of strength and of character.”
I loved that about him, adored it, really. I’ve often wished that conviction and certainty in what was right could be passed down to all of our people. That we could see what I think he saw in us. Something that’s undeniably there, but is often hidden by tears or misdirection, sadness or some other fuckery, and carry it proudly through every moment of every day.
I was proud that he kept his illness private. That he did not allow it to define him. Instead he continued to work, created art, memorable, wonderful, now iconic characters that will live on, inspire and bring joy for us, from us, for everyone, forever.
His legacy made me feel better. It reminded me that we are not what the media, what anyone, might portray us to be. It reminded me that there is so much good in this skin, if only we could see it, believe it, and use it in a positive way, as he did. Chadwick Boseman fashioned an enviable career for himself playing the best. Literally. The best in sports – Jackie Robinson – the best in music – James Brown – the best legal mind – Thurgood Marshall – the best superhero – Black Panther.
I doubt it was hard for him. He had natural talent. He was one of those actors who could disappear into a role, yet you could still identify a certain swagger that carried from man to man, genre to genre. That was him peeking out, his integrity, his certainty that he was doing the right thing.
I imagine he left a lot of money on the table because he refused to play the stereotypical roles that are often offered to us. Yet he left us with unforgettable roles that can be held up as examples of the best. That’s something, and it made me feel hopeful.
It’s perhaps counterintuitive that someone’s death helped to reignite a spark of life within me. But that confirms the power of his legacy. What strength this man had to know that his life’s end was approaching and to make the decision to carry on anyway, to work. I imagine it gave him some solace, to create and know that someone would be inspired by his effort.
I’ve started to listen to Tony Robbins while I take my twice daily walks. See, I’ve done well during the pandemic. I’m not bragging. Far from it. I know all too well how people are suffering, though gratefully, no one close to me is doing poorly. But I’m determined to be better. To live more prudently, thoughtfully, considerately, to write more.
I have a wonderful idea for a book. Not the romance novels I’ve been writing, but a different kind of fiction. Fiction that might ruffle feathers, but might inspire others, and I will release it under my own name. No pen name. It will be me, literary flashing the world, like, come get it!
The idea’s been percolating for a while now, but something about Boseman’s death gave me new purpose. Maybe this will be my Black Panther, who knows? It’s a wonderful thought.